5 Things an Aspiring Writer Can Do Besides Writing

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Mike Trout; Photo Courtesy of Major League Baseball

Look, Major League Baseball Superstar Mike Trout didn’t just wake up one day and become one of the best hitters in baseball.  He had to train, practice, watch tape and study other hitters, watch tape and study the pitchers he was going to face, work with his coaches, and work with his teammates.

And for the writer, it is no different.  Here are five things an aspiring writer can do, besides write, that will get their spec script into Major League Baseball player shape!

Read the Trades!

The Hollywood Reporter; Photo Courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter

Understanding the business side of Hollywood is just as important as understanding the creative process.  For one, if you are writing a movie nobody wants to buy, you’re more likely to get a chilly reception from potential agents and studios.  However, if you can read the tea leaves, perhaps you can tap into a subject that will light the town on fire.

In addition to publications such as Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline Hollywood, there are a bevy of YouTube Channels that examine the business side of Hollywood.

Grace Randolph; Photo Courtesy of Beyond the Trailer

Grace Randolph’s Movie Math and Beyond the Trailer provides in depth analysis on everything from feminism in movies to breakdowns of some of the biggest deals in Hollywood, such as the drama going on between 20th Century Fox, Disney and Comcast.

Dan Murrell; Photo Courtesy of Screen Junkies

Dan Murell’s Screen Junkies segment Charting with Dan that airs every Monday, not only examines the weekend’s domestic box office, but also analyzes world wide box office, while tracking movie seasons and yearly totals.  The trends he uncovers are invaluable to the aspiring writer who wants to understand why some movies are hits and others are flops!

John Humphrey and Greg Alba; Photo Courtesy of The Reel Rejects

Another fun channel is The Reel Rejects with Greg Alba and John Humphrey.  Their reaction channel which boasts half a million subscribers allows you to get inside the minds of the very audience you’re trying to appease.  Not only do you get fresh takes on what Hollywood is producing, these two gents do hilarious sketches spoofing Tinsel Town’s biggest hits.

Read Other Scripts!

Quentin Tarantino; Photo Courtesy of Miramax

When Quentin Tarantino broke out with Pulp Fiction, he inspired several writers to reimagine the way they told their stories, utilizing new structures.  When M. Night Shyamalan hit the scene, he inspired writers to focus on surprise endings.  As soon as Christopher Nolan emerged, writers were enticed to tell mind bending stories with larger than life realities.

Short and sweet, the best writers are the ones who are well read.  You need to read the screenplays that have gotten made, so you have a realistic barometer for how your stories are being presented.  When you understand the specific lingo of the screenplay, you’ll find more people are enticed to read your spec script.

Go to the Movies!

A theater at 24:1 Cinema fills up for a Sunday morning showing of “The Boss Baby” in northern St. Louis County. (Dilip Vishwanat / For the Times)

However, reading screenplays alone is not enough.  You need to see the final product.  Going to the movies is just as important to a writer as going to a gym is for an athlete.  But instead of handling kettle balls and doing pushups, you’re snuggling a large popcorn and soda.  Doesn’t this already sound better?

In all seriousness, watching films is a writer’s bread and butter.  You need to nourish yourself, not just with good movies, but also watch some of the ones that didn’t work.  You need to understand how a bad movie happens just as much as how a good one comes to fruition.  No one sets out to make a bad movie, but was the problem the screenplay?  Or was the problem something else?  It’s important to know these things!

Talk About Your Ideas with Peers!

When you first get an idea, one of the best things to do is talk about it.  Just like going to a therapist will help you with your marriage, or your relationship with your mother, talking out your ideas will help you avoid early mistakes.  There is nothing better than lighting up your friend’s face with a great idea.  However, you also get to see their reactions when an idea is just not working.  Listening to feedback is one of the most important processes for a writer.

Workshop Your Material!

Star Wars Table Read for The Force Awakens; Photo Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Last but not least, once you have a first draft, you need to workshop your material.  Having friends read the script is a great first step.  You can follow that with having actors gather for a table read.  Hearing how your script reads out loud can be an eye opening exercise.  Also having two actors get together with you to act out scenes is an excellent way to hone the emotion in that moment.  This is also mutually beneficial to the actors who get to practice their craft and help add punch to a scene.

In Conclusion…

Other than sitting down and writing, there are ways for you to work out your stories and find the best way to get your spec script in great shape.  So remember to train hard so that when you turn in your spec screenplay, you hit it out of the park!

author-avatar

Jason Dolan is a WGA screenwriter whose credits including the supernatural indie Enter Nowhere and The Vanishing of Sidney Hall which premiered at Sundance in 2017 and sold to A24. He is currently prepping his directorial debut. You can follow him on Twitter @jdolan74.

6 Replies to "5 Things an Aspiring Writer Can Do Besides Writing"

  • comment-avatar
    Viken Nokhoudian June 5, 2018 (4:33 pm)

    I suppose it helps to add real-world understanding to one’s writing. For example, if a lead character is supposed to be FBI or Special Forces, familiar with fieldcraft and firearms, go spend some time learning professional firearm skills and spend time with people who have real world experience. It pains me greatly to watch programs like “24” (couldn’t get past the first season) or early “X Files” or any other program where the characters don’t demonstrate even the basic behaviors revealing their background history and skillsets. Writers expect the audience to willingly suspend disbelief. Yet, it’s an insult to the viewer’s intelligence to claim a character is something the character obviously is not.

    • comment-avatar
      Jason Dolan June 5, 2018 (4:48 pm)

      Great comment!

  • comment-avatar
    AB June 6, 2018 (10:04 am)

    Great advice in here and love the analogies!

  • comment-avatar
    Alakee Khareh June 7, 2018 (8:01 am)

    Thanks for the effort, but the advice given was nothing new or revealing. I would also suggest proofreading your blog: “…wants, your more likely to get…” Really? Honestly, I skimmed through the rest.

    • comment-avatar
      Jenna Milly June 7, 2018 (9:54 am)

      Thanks so much Alakee for catching this error. Much appreciated!

  • comment-avatar
    chandan singh August 25, 2018 (1:03 pm)

    such a wonderful article very nice, i am regular follower of your site

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